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What is 'exhaustion of administrative remedies' in Oklahoma?

Oklahoma law does not recognize a private cause of action that can be filed in the state's courts for discrimination in the workplace, with the exception of those cases which involve discrimination on the basis of disability. We also touched on the interplay between federal and state courts, and how the process of pursuing a claim may be different, depending on the venue.

The federal and state courts are two separate entities, which have different rules, and sometimes even abide by somewhat different laws. As far as lawsuits under anti-discrimination laws go, the federal system has a requirement that plaintiffs have exhausted all their 'administrative remedies' before they have standing to sue in federal court. What this means is that the person alleging discrimination must file a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and have that agency process the request.

Only after the EEOC has closed its case and issued a Dismissal and Notice of Rights, or a Notice of Right to Sue, can the prospective plaintiff go forward with the legal case. In the federal system, the individual who was discriminated against has 90 days from the receipt of this notice from the EEOC to commence the action in federal court.

In Oklahoma's state system, most cases are handled by the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission. This government entity is the only party with standing to sue in most state workplace discrimination cases. However, if a person believes discrimination occurred in an employment context due to a disability, then that person may have a cause of action in state court. In these cases, there is no requirement that the plaintiff exhaust administrative remedies before suing. There is, however, a statute of limitations on the filing of such actions. This means that the individual alleging discrimination on the basis of disability must file the lawsuit within two years of the alleged act or acts of discrimination.

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